Saturday marked the 72nd year since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and community groups commemorated the day by honoring World War II veterans at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke and by supporting the Honor Flight program.
It was the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 when the U.S. naval base in Hawaii was attacked. Ultimately, it brought the United States into World War II.
“Many of the veterans here in this room went on to fight after Pearl Harbor and their service led to the victory at the Battle of Midway, through intense fighting in the Guadalcanal, and ultimately to our nation’s victory in the Second World War four years later,” said Paul Barabani, superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home. “We will never forget them and all who have given the ultimate sacrifice to guarantee our freedom.”
Nearly half of the veteran residents in the Soldiers’ Home are from the World War II era.
In attendance was Lena Gordon, a Soldiers’ Home resident, who was an Army nurse assigned to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii during the attack. That same day, Lena’s future husband, Bill Sutherland, was a major in the U.S. Army Air Forces and was one of a handful of pilots who was able to launch his fighter plane. Sutherland was later killed in a training accident at Pearl Harbor. At the ceremony, she was joined by her son, Bill Sutherland of Springfield.
Nello Rota, 99, commander of the George G. Clarke Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 801 in Holyoke, said he was about to be discharged from the Army when the attack occurred. Instead, he ended up in the 43rd Infantry Division and served for the duration of the war.
“Pearl Harbor changed my life,” said Rota. “It changed many lives that day.”
During the commemoration ceremony, community members announced the number of World War II veterans from the region whose names will be forwarded to Honor Flight New England for trips to Washington D.C. in 2014 to see their memorial. The Southwick American Legion Post 338 extended its support by announcing a $10,000 monetary contribution to the Soldiers’ Home to support the Honor Flight Program. The proceeds were from the Post’s ownership of Motocross 338.
“The Post which has entered into a new contract with a new motocross promoter, is able to make this donation to help with Honor Flight,” said Robert Kough, Post commander. “The motocross, under the new promoter, will continue in 2014 and in years to come, allowing the Legion to support veteran and community causes.”
This fall, the Soldiers’ Home, Holyoke Community College, Holyoke Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice Life Care, and the George C. Clarke Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 801 in Holyoke collected applications from World War II veterans to go on next year’s Honor Flights, which will take place in the spring, summer and fall. Thirty-six applications from Pioneer Valley World War II veterans were sent by mail on Saturday for veterans to go on the trip to Washington. The honor flight program covers transportation, medical support, and food costs for the day trips for veterans. Of the applications, 19 are veterans from Holyoke, including 10 who reside at the Soldiers’ Home. Other applicants are from Springfield, West Springfield, Hadley, Agawam, Amherst, Chicopee, Easthampton, Ludlow, Southwick, Westfield, and Williamsburg. There are 105 Honor Flight chapters around the country, and in addition to World War II veterans, terminally ill vets from any war are accepted on a priority basis. The applications were postmarked on Dec. 7 and sent to Honor Flight New England, the regional hub for the program.
Other community partners include King Ward Coach Lines, Providence Place, the city of Holyoke Department of Veterans’ Services, Central Hampshire County Veterans Services, Fairview American Legion Post 438, the Town of Ludlow Department of Veterans’ Services, and Life Choice Hospice.
“It meant a lot to us to have this ceremony today and to remember the veterans,” said Robert Fournier, a Holyoke World War II veteran.